Don’t Give The Game Away


Did You See The Game? I did.

I watched the Michigan / Ohio State game yesterday. If you missed it, you missed a treat. It was a great win and a horrible loss both at the same time. Yes, it was a great win for Ohio State to come from behind and beat their archrivals 30 -27 in DOUBLE OT, at home, again. And it was a horrible, almost unspeakable loss.

One sportswriter put it this way:

“There is simply too much pain to process. Losing to Ohio State? Losing in double overtime? Losing with some controversy? Losing the Big Ten East Division? Losing a shot at the Playoff? It’s almost overwhelming. Michigan will bounce back under Jim Harbaugh — and very likely be right there for the 2017 national title — but this loss will sting all offseason. Then again, maybe there’s room for Michigan to make a national semifinal in 2016?”

Michigan had the game in the bag. I mean the game was won and the Michigan Quarterback Wilton Speight and the referees game it away. Yes it was a great game because it had everything: it had defense and turnovers and missed field goals and a pick-six and fourth and inches and a first down controversy in double overtime.

If you didn’t catch yesterday’s game, you missed one of the best regular season college games in college football history Michigan, the better team, had Ohio State on the ropes for most of the game, then choose to gift the game back to the Buckeyes down the stretch. Ohio State wouldn’t have even been in the game had it not been for the interceptions that the Michigan QB gave them. Wow.

Coach Jim Harbaugh has every right to be mad, but the first person he needs to be mad with is himself. He lost his cool and it cost his team five critical yards late in the game when the defense needed to keep the Buckeyes out of the end zone. They did not.

We lead by example. A long time ago someone said, monkey see, monkey do. And the team saw their coach lose his composure, and then they went on to lose the game in typical Michigan, meltdown fashion (the Wolverines have lost five straight to Ohio State at the Horseshoe).

“Outrageous,” Harbaugh said at one point, describing the officiating that he thought cost his Wolverines the game at Ohio State Saturday afternoon. Maybe it did. Maybe it didn’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is how you handle a brutal loss when you speak to the public. What matters is what you show them. Harbaugh didn’t show much grace.

His senior defensive lineman, however, Chris Wormley, did. “There’s a few calls that I thought could go either way,” he said. “You’ve got to play through those types of calls, handle adversity.” Yes, you do.

And so the lesson is almost lyrical: you may lose and you may fail and you may suffer loss, but don’t give it away. Don’t lose your cool or lose your head or lose your composure. Your opponent may try to grab it or seize it or snatch it or even steal it, but DO NOT give it away.  And that’s just what the Michigan coach and the Michigan team did yesterday.


Ohio State vs. Michigan: Impose Your Will


It doesn’t get any bigger than this. The season and a shot at the championship are on the line.  For these two pigskin powerhouses and football juggernauts, it’s time for the big game against their arch rival. So just about everything that really counts is up for grabs. The annual clash between these rivals means even more this year as the winner is likely to end up in the College Football Playoffs.

It just doesn’t get any bigger than this. In order to win, one team must impose their will and their way upon their opponent.

It doesn’t get any better than Michigan vs. Ohio State @ the Horseshoe. Pre-game and pre first snap, we are asking ourselves and each other these eternal questions: who will prevail? Who will succeed and triumph? Who will impose their way and emerge victorious?  These immortal questions emerge at the initiation of every athletic encounter. And they also surface before every season and afore every game and as we face every down and as we prepare for every play of our lives.

It just doesn’t get any better than this. This pivotal, punctual, national pastime of a matchup will answer questions that beg for answers. And the correlation for you and I is this: will we impose our will over the will of our emotions and feelings and sensations? Can we overcome our dark passions and secret sensations and vile vexations in order to achieve our goals?

We must. And with the help of Heaven, we will. Failure is not an option. And yet if we fail to succeed (this time), we must get back up and get back going, again.  

A Wonderful Way To Win and A Woeful Way To Lose

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 17: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines reacts on the sidlines during the second quarter of the college football game against the Michigan State Spartans at Michigan Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines 27-23. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
ANN ARBOR, MI – OCTOBER 17: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines reacts on the sidlines at the end of the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Michigan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines 27-23 after recovering a fumbled punt snap. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Wow. What a game. What a way to win and what a way to lose. Michigan had the game won. And Michigan State had the game in the loss column. For Michigan State, it was a wonderful way to win an away game at your arch-rivals expense. And for Michigan — well, let’s just say that this is yet another opportunity to overcome adversity.

But talk about a heartbreaker. Talk about a tearjerker. Talk about a crazy way to lose and a crazier way to win. Just 10 seconds away from the biggest bang of his young college career, Jim Harbaugh saw his team fumble away a wonderful win. The “Harbaugh Effect” was in full force for 59 minutes and 50 seconds. But those last 10 seconds of the game saw something only legends are made of. The Harbaugh force fizzled and the sensational sizzle somehow turned to drizzle and someway dissolved the wonderful win away.

The victory party at the Big House had to be canceled at the last minute. Or, worse yet, the last second. Michigan had the game. They HAD it. The Michigan punter will need a few friends and fewer sharp objects after fumbling the last snap and in effect fumbling away the game. Michigan had the game won and it just slipped through their hands. Just like that. Because Yogi said, “It’s not over until it’s over.”

And so what can we learn? We can learn this: don’t let a game slip through your hands. Don’t play not to lose. Play to win. Fear and worry and panic and dread have no place in the winner’s circle. Ten seconds till the win? No way Michigan loses that game. No way. Yet they lost, and now they will have to figure out a way to come back and fight back and take back what was stolen from them.

Because this was not just a loss, it was yet another lesson on why we all hate to lose.

Michigan Is Back! A.K.A., The “Harbaugh Effect”

SICOV36-4c-Jim Harbaugh-Promo

From Dan Murphy, ESPN Staff Writer

It seems too soon to say it, but there’s no way around it anymore. Michigan is back.

The 12th-ranked Wolverines, winners of their past five, aren’t just beating opponents. They’re flattening them in more complete fashion with each passing week. To say this is a different team than a year ago is an understatement akin to saying the defense, orchestrators of three consecutive shutouts, doesn’t give up many points. Michigan’s play calling has improved and that defense is playing a more aggressive style, but those aren’t the changes that Wolverines players point to when asked why they’re winning.

“The coaches instilled in us in spring ball and fall camp and the summer that we’ve got to be tough,” defensive lineman Willie Henry said. “We’ve got to outwork people. We’ve got to feel like we outworked our opponent.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the same elixir every coach in America prescribes for his or her team at the start of the season. Former Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s teams held the same ideals every offseason. They even tried to assert their toughness in the same way: with a pro-style offense and a bruising defense. Michigan is trying to do the exact same things as a year ago with largely the same players. Only this time it’s working.

The obvious variables in that equation are Jim Harbaugh and the other coaches that followed him to his alma mater. The “Harbaugh Effect” has become a blanket explanation for anything positive happening in southeast Michigan during the last nine months — from an uptick on the recruiting trail to increased sales of tickets, parking spaces and khakis. But what’s the cause? How is he doing it, and doing it so fast?

“There’s something different about this team than last year,” running back De’Veon Smith said. “Even though we have the same players. It’s just, I don’t know, just something different.”

The rest of Smith’s teammates are at a similar loss for words when asked to identify why Harbaugh’s calls for hard work seem to resonate more than just about any other coach in the country. It’s not that they won’t tell you, it’s that they can’t. It’s more of a mystery than a secret. Michigan players have a hard time remembering when and why they started to believe in one another.

“I really don’t know, to be honest,” Smith said. “I guess maybe when we realized we were having four-hour practices.”

Smith said he didn’t realize it in the spring, back when Harbaugh was keeping his team on the field for the maximum amount of time allowed by NCAA rules for each session, but in retrospect he says that’s when they learned to lean on each other. The four-hour practices haven’t returned this fall, but their effects are now paying dividends.

All of the quirky Harbaugh methods that made the outside world shake its collective head this offseason are now what his players point to when prodded to think about why they’re having success.

He holds foot races to see who will earn a spot on special-teams units and keeps track of the winners. Senior Jehu Chesson is usually the top finisher, and he was the one with the ball on a 96-yard kick return to start Saturday’s game with a touchdown. The reward for winning practice competitions in camp was running more sprints, because it’s a privilege to be able to work hard. So it’s no surprise that instead of enjoying the final minutes of a 38-0 shutout by waving towels on the sideline, Michigan’s defensive starters were flying to the ball on Northwestern’s final series Saturday night.

Among his many reclamation projects, this has been the fastest the Harbaugh Effect has taken effect. The combination of frustration with Michigan’s recent past and faith in Harbaugh’s recent past provided him with a group of players willing to buy whatever he was selling. He sets an impossibly high bar and then convinces his team they can clear it. He’s gotten others over the bar before, after all.

There were no surprised faces in Michigan’s locker room after a 38-0 win over the No. 13 team in the country Saturday night. This was expected, they said. Michigan is winning games because they believe they’ve earned it.

“That excellence is expected from all our coaches,” cornerback Jourdan Lewis said. “We have to be great. That’s the standard around here.”